The Thanksgiving holiday mood in the ELWA Junction vicinity was crushed when a man, scavenging a dump site for scrap materials, discovered the body of an infant girl wrapped in a blanket and put in a sealed carton.
At a glance, the baby did not shake or cry, and its navel string (umbilical cord) was still attached, causing many to believe that it was already dead for about five to seven hours by the time of discovery (around 9 a.m.).
It is not clear whether the baby was left to die at the dump site or was already dead before it was deposited there.
Hawa Massaquoi, a local resident who was the second to have sighted the baby, told the Daily Observer yesterday in an exclusive interview that she was taking her son to the nearby Liberty Clinic when her son pointed at the trembling scrap-man standing in front of the dead child lying beside the carton.
“From a distance, when we asked the guy, he just stood still trembling with his dirty bag almost half-filled with things,” Hawa said. “And after few seconds the dumpsite got crowded while the guy was sitting nervously.”
There were random views about what really happened.
“Nine months of pain is not an easy thing to overlook and kill a young, innocent baby,” Love Kollie, a pregnant woman at the scene told the Daily Observer, assuming that the baby may have been killed by its mother. “Even if the man denied the pregnancy, you should spare the life of the child because you do not know whether this is the only child you will have to take care of you. I have a child that the father denied, but I still kept him up till today. The woman who did this thing is not a real human being.”
Another by-stander, Alvin Lahai of ELWA Studio Junction, noted that it was not the first time babies have been abandoned at the dump-pile. He said the practice is more common during the rainy season and, though no arrests have been made yet, the frequency of such has escalated as a result of the Ebola pandemic.
Others – mainly women – argued that the baby must have been a stillborn, which is common in Liberia because of the crippled health system in the midst of the Ebola outbreak. A stillborn baby is one who is born without any signs of life at or after 24 weeks pregnancy. The baby may have died during pregnancy, labour or birth.
Whatever really happened, some onlookers called it “wickedness” that one would leave a baby – dead or alive – in a dump site. They asked God to “curse and punish” the unidentified person who left the baby there. “If the baby was dead, it should have been buried,” one bystander said.
Meanwhile, two police officers who were at the scene and refused to disclose their names said they had immediately contacted the headquarters of the Liberia National Police for the removal of the body.
“We aren’t investigating this case, because every dead body is assumed to be an Ebola victim,” the officer said. “If it was normal time without being under State of Emergency, we would have investigated this matter, and made some arrests. The first suspect would be the iron guy (scrap scavenger) who discovered the dead child.”
Collateral Damage from Ebola Crisis
For Madam Rose L. Varney, a social worker and the administrator of the nearby Liberty Clinic, said the discovery of the baby is part of the collateral damage from the Ebola crisis. She says many health centers are refusing to treat pregnant women during the crisis due to fear of coming in contact with the blood and other bodily fluids of people, whose [Ebola] status they don’t know.
She fears that many pregnant women who do not go to hospital, or get attached to a health center for prenatal care, would suffer similar fate.
At the height of the Ebola crisis that is in July and August, most pregnant women and their unborn babies were left to die as they (women) were rejected at almost every health center and hospital. There were reports all around Monrovia of people being turned back from hospitals and health centers. All of those health facilities had broken down because health workers themselves began dying from the virus and so were not around to treat and care for others, who had other illnesses other than Ebola.
According to Madam Varney, stillbirth is caused by many factors. “Maybe the baby simply did not grow enough in the uterus due to genetic or physical defect in the baby,” she said. “This means the baby's brain, heart or other organ has not developed properly. Sometimes there is heavy bleeding after 24 weeks of pregnancy; an illness suffered by the mother, such as diabetes, the liver condition a blood-clotting problem.”
“Losing a baby is a devastating blow in this Ebola crisis. When it happens, it is hard to know how to cope, both practically and emotionally because of the unwillingness of many health centers to contact anybody’s blood and fluid,” the nurse said. “We hope things could get better.”
She urged the government and national and international organizations to address the case of pregnant women before the infant mortality rate in the country climbs.
She recommended that there should be free and compulsory treatment for all pregnant women and it should be widely publicized, just like the Ebola preventive message.
“This could encourage pregnant women to go to hospital amidst the Ebola crisis which has also plunged our economy,” Madam Varney said.